Those questions lie at the heart of the recent memoir Eve's Apple by Marie Therese Kceif (not the author's real name). By any standard, this former Army captain would be classified as an intense over-achiever. Her college schedule reads like a self-imposed boot camp: up at 5:00 a.m., swim practice, ROTC fitness workout, ballet class, academic classes, second swim practice with weight training, jog to work, jog back to the dorm, study, night class, and bike training. Marie explains, "It never occurred to me that I couldn't do it all. I just thought I had to try harder."
Marie's first marriage was to Jason, a man willing to take her lead and follow her from Army base to Army base as she completed flight school, ferried generals and royals around Central Europe to secret negotiations, faced hardship and ambush in Somalia, and became the first woman in the U.S. Army to command an active duty attack unit. All the while, Marie earned top evaluations and consistently ranked as the most physically fit of any soldier -- male or female -- in her training class.
Although she felt stirrings of a simple desire to be a wife and mother, Marie squelched them. Focusing on her own glory, not God's, as she explains it, Marie slowly drifted away from her husband Jason and eventually became unfaithful. Through an extramarital affair with an aggressive and driven "top gun" pilot named Cruz, Marie unexpectedly became pregnant and asked her husband for a divorce. Jason acquiesced, suffering mainly in silence.
Marie then married Cruz, a man almost opposite in personality to her first husband, and found herself in the middle of an unmitigated disaster. Because their relationship was considered to be fraternization, they were thrust out of the Army and into civilian life. Stiflingly traditional in his expectations and jealous of Marie's ability to attract job offers, Cruz attempted to dominate Marie both physically and mentally. He demeaned, belittled, and beat her, going so far as to half-strangle her on more than one occasion. In her memoir, Marie explains:
It may be hard for some, even for myself, to understand the extreme poles of power I have experienced. I went from being a commander in the attack Army Cavalry to being an abused working mother. After much thought, I believe I ended up on both ends of the spectrum because of my deep-rooted sense of needing to be self-reliant in all things. ... Self-reliance was proving itself to be an unsafe authority and a poor guide.After a torturous saga involving women's shelters, jail time, bankruptcy, and divorce, Marie finally let go of her self-reliance and reached out to God. Praying from the depths of her soul for aid and comfort, Marie began the long journey home to Jesus' loving arms. Through answered prayers almost miraculous in their specificity, Marie found a job, a home, and a good man named Samuel.
Marie's new-found trust in God allowed her to escape from the poisonous dynamic of having to control a man or be controlled by one. With Samuel, she learned "to surrender to healthy guidance" from a man who wanted what was best for them both. She came back to her Catholic faith, received annulments of her previous marriages, and convalidated her marriage to Samuel -- a happy marriage which has now lasted for more than 10 years. Marie explains the immense difference in her relationship with Samuel:
I was used to being in charge, calling the shots, and being at the helm, even when the burden was too heavy for me. ... I was learning I could be powerful and useful without being the one in charge or in the limelight. Over time this concept has been liberating, relieving me of a burden I didn't need to carry.Call me a troglodyte if you want, but I think there's something deep inside a woman that wants a man to take the lead. Maybe this is what the Bible means in Genesis when it says to Eve that "your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you" (Gn 3:16). Or maybe this is what St. Paul means in Ephesians when he says that the husband is the head of the wife (Eph 5:23).
But as the Holy Family shows us. being the head doesn't mean being the best. Mary was fully capable of leading the Holy Family. Both she and Joseph knew who was "better" or more "full of grace" in the eyes of God. But as a sign of her love and trust in him, Mary followed where Joseph led. There was time enough for Mary's strength to shine during Jesus' public ministry after Joseph had presumably died. During Joseph's life, Mary surrendered to what the author of Eve's Apple might call healthy husbandly guidance, and in so doing left a model for generations of strong women to emulate.